Rockets coach Cory Mee, left, asked UT's seniors to play more relaxed in April. Ryan Wilkinson starts today in the MAC playoffs.
Seniors on the University of Toledo baseball team occupied the back of the bus April 7 -- as they do for all road trips -- when a visitor approached them.
It was their coach, Cory Mee.
In what now is being thought of as a conversation that helped resurrect a season that was circling the drain, Mee implored his nine seniors to play more relaxed and to develop a confidence that was missing during a losing streak that had grown to six earlier that day.
The chat seemed to galvanize the Rockets, who responded by winning 16 of their final 19 Mid-American Conference games and capturing the program's first-ever division championship.
Not many people would have predicted at the time UT would be in the position it is now, the No. 2 seed in the MAC tournament, which begins today at All Pro Freight Stadium in Avon, Ohio.
The Rockets (30-25) will square off against No. 7 Miami (28-27) at 4 p.m. The winner will face No. 3 Central Michigan or No. 6 Eastern Michigan in the second round of the double elimination tournament at roughly 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Mee said he walked to the back of the bus "to clear the air" after UT dropped a 7-3 decision to Central Michigan to fall to 12-18 overall and 3-5 in the league. Effort was not the issue, Mee said, and in fact the Rockets might have been pressing too hard to make good on lofty preseason expectations.
"We decided that wasn't working, and we needed to go out and have fun, enjoy the game, enjoy the competition, and enjoy our team," Mee said.
The next day, in the series finale, UT rebounded from a four-run deficit in the fifth to prevail 10-9. With that, a new season was underway.
Two wins over Western Michigan the next weekend were followed by sweeps of Northern Illinois and Ball State before UT -- due to cool off -- lost twice to Buffalo in the first weekend of May. The regular season ended with sweeps of Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan.
"There was a couple-week span when we had to turn it around or it wasn't going to look so good," said pitcher Ryan Wilkinson, who will start today.
After Mee had finished speaking with his seniors, the seniors approached the underclassmen to relay the conversation. Among the messages shared were the Rockets needed to "play with more swag," freshman right fielder Dan Zuchowski said.
"Yeah, more swagger," senior second baseman Joe Corfman said. "Just play like you have a chip on your shoulder and like you're better than the other team no matter who they are."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160, or on Twitter @RyanAutullo.
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